11+ Exams

Although some schools offer 13+ admissions, 11+ is the most popular entry point for selective secondary schools. This is the age at which schools will take their largest cohort of students. It is a very competitive process and, for oversubscribed schools like Westminster School, St Paul’s Girls, Tiffin School, only 1 in 10 applicants* may be successful in any given year.

Every year, The Golden Circle prepares students for 11+ exams at top independent and grammar schools. To optimise results, we run initial assessments to identify a child’s strengths and areas for development. We send parents weekly feedback on their child’s progress, as they work towards their exam goals. For parents new to the process, here is some insight into the 11+ journey.

School choices

  1. Make a shortlist of schools that you feel will be a good fit for your child. You may want to consider the school’s ethos, league table ranking at GCSE and A Level, extracurricular provision and SEN support, among other factors. Many parents make applications to 8-12 secondary schools. Check the admissions page of each school to understand how much they prioritise applicants living in the catchment area, as this could affect your child’s chances of being offered a place. Read our blog How to Find The Perfect School For Your Child for more information on the selection process.
  2. The 11+ providers are ISEB, CEM, and GL. Many independent schools use the ISEB Common Pre-Test for the first round of testing. The ISEB Common Pre-Test is an online, adaptive test for assessing English, Maths, Verbal Reasoning and Non Verbal Reasoning. This may then be followed by a second round of testing, usually school-specific written papers in Maths and English.

We recommend parents apply to schools with a mix of exams, in case their child has an off day on the ISEB Common Pre-Test.

Early Preparation (Year 3)

It’s early days to be thinking about the 11+ when your child is in Year 3. We don’t advise getting an 11+ tutor yet, but there are small steps you can take to get prepared.

  1. Encourage your child to read for enjoyment and ask them lots of questions about the characters or plot
  2. Sign up for an Atom Learning account – the 8+ practice exercises help to familiarise children with online testing and develop VR/NVR skills which are not taught explicitly in school. Some children even find the online ‘games’ fun!
  3. Introduce Bond 10 minute tests to practice Maths and English skills on a daily basis
  4. Sign up to Exam papers plus newsletters for school-specific advice on what came up in the previous year’s 11+ exams. They also have many English/VR and Maths/NVR papers which can be used for practice.

Focused Preparation (Year 4-6)

We recommend 12-24 months of focused preparation for 11+ exams. This means dedicating 2 hours per week to 11+ preparation in Year 5, and increasing this to 3 hours or more in the 3-4 months leading up to the exam. Our experience has shown us that a little and often approach is better than last minute cramming!

  1. 11+ support can be delivered by schools, parents, an older sibling or a qualified tutor. Children should also get used to completing work independently, as this is what they will have to do in the exam. The 11+ exam questions are based on the Key 2 curriculum (equivalent to Year 6 SATs level 5 and above). If you are outsourcing 11+ support, check that your teacher is a qualified teacher with an in-depth understanding of the Key Stage 2 curriculum.
  2. Get a parent account for Atom Learning to see which decile your child is falling into for the four papers. The 1 hour tests are excellent for teaching pattern recognition (for example, there are 8 types of NVR questions to look for – odd one out, like shapes, rotations, code breaker, missing sequence, missing square, most like, and nets). However, these online tests also get children used to single-step problems, so they should only form part of your 11+ preparation.
  3. Practise 11+ Bond papers under timed conditions
  4. Introduce past papers issued by the schools you have applied to. Children often find these harder than the Bond exercises or online practice tests because the format of the papers vary, there are lots of multi-step problems, and the questions are less predictable. Completing a wide range of these under timed conditions is important in Year 5 and 6.

Read our blog How to Prepare for an 11+ Interview to understand the final steps of 11+ preparation.

* Specific admissions rates can be found on Exam Papers Plus or school websites

We wish you the best of luck with your applications.


We are proud of the high quality and professional service provided by our team of teachers and the individually tailored support that we offer to parents. Accompanying tutorials, we guide parents on school choices, school applications, and preparing their child for interviews. Please get in touch for more information.